Tobacco 21 issue goes up in smoke in Cuyahoga Falls

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Author: April Helms Posted Mar 28, 2019 at 5:14 PMUpdated Mar 28, 2019 at 6:35 PM  

CUYAHOGA FALLS — The city has opted not to stop young adults from purchasing tobacco and tobacco-related products.

The city council this week rejected Tobacco 21, a measure that would have outlawed the sale of tobacco products or paraphernalia to anyone younger than 21. The legislation also would have authorized a contract with the Summit County health department to implement the measure.

Because the vote by council ended up a 5-5 tie, the measure failed, Mayor Don Walters said.

Summit County Public Health has been pushing the measure across the county. So far, Akron, Green, Mogadore, Norton, Richfield and Twinsburg have approved the ban.

The Summit County Council also is considering whether to enact the restriction in the county’s townships, including Bath, Boston, Copley, Coventry, Northfield Center, Richfield, Sagamore Hills, Springfield and Twinsburg townships. A vote could take place sometime in April, according to county officials.

Walters said there is a proposal to make the restriction state law, but added he is disappointed with the city’s failure to adopt the measure.

“Such movements need to start locally,” he said. “Seven states have passed Tobacco 21. … Ohio would be the eighth.”

The proposal had the support of the Cuyahoga Falls and Woodridge school districts.

Walters said that he discussed the issue with his youth council, whose members are all in high school.

“When I brought up the issue with them, it was unanimous,” the mayor said. “All eight said they supported it. Two even testified to council before the vote. You have to be 21 or older to drink alcohol or purchase a handgun. Alcohol, if used properly, is considered safe. Handguns, if used properly, are considered safe. Tobacco, if used properly, is considered dangerous. A Kent business owner said he lost business because of this law. That’s a great thing because that means that product didn’t go into an 18- to 20-year-old’s lungs.”

Tim Gorbach, D-at large, said he was “highly disappointed” the council did not pass the legislation, “in spite of the mountain of evidence from local health care CEOs, the American Cancer Society” and the Center for Disease Control.

“The substantial health risks to our youth that are obtaining vape devices illegally from 18- to 20-year-old’s is frightening,” Gorbach said. “Every student in the high school encounters vaping numerous times throughout their day. There are vape dealers at our school profiting from the explosive use of these products. We really had a chance to stand up for something Monday night, and instead, we failed.”

But Councilman Russ Iona, R-8, said that he was skeptical that Tobacco 21 would curb tobacco use in those younger than 21.

“It was a law that would restrict the business side, but I don’t think it would discourage that age group from smoking or vaping,” Iona said. “You could just drive to another city, or if you didn’t want to do that, you could order these products online. You can have the right to vote, you can enlist in the armed services, but you can’t decide whether to smoke or vape. It’s a civil rights issue.”

Jeff Iula, R-at large, said that although he voted against the restriction, he would support a statewide ban on the sale of tobacco products to those younger than 21.

“I’m not pro-smoking,” Iula said. “I quit 26 years ago. If they made it statewide, I’d back that.”

Iula said the city passing such legislation would “not [be] stopping them from smoking … just slowing them down.”

Neighboring Stow, for example, recently rejected the measure.

“They can go to Stow to buy their smokes,” Iula said. “And while they are there, they may stop at the Starbucks in that city, or go shopping at Giant Eagle or another store in Stow, because they had to get their smokes there. Cuyahoga Falls loses that revenue.”